2nd Circuit Weighs In|on Obesity Bias Claim

     (CN) – A former karate instructor who claims he was fired for being too fat won another shot at arguing that obesity is a disability under New York City law. The 2nd Circuit revived the instructor’s claim that the karate school violated a city law barring employers from firing workers “because of an actual or perceived … disability.”

     “Neither the New York Court of Appeals nor any intermediate New York appellate court has addressed the question of whether obesity alone constitutes a disability” under the New York City Human Rights Law, the three-judge panel wrote.
     The Manhattan-based court reinstated that part of Elliot Spiegel’s lawsuit and remanded, leaving it up to U.S. District Judge Sandra Townes to decide if Spiegel’s weight qualifies as a disability.
     Spiegel had sued Daniel “Tiger” Schulmann and UAK Management Co. in federal court, claiming his weight got him fired at the Tiger Schulmann Karate School in Stamford, Conn. He said he has a medical condition called hypogonadism that prevents him from losing weight.
     He also claimed that the karate school fired Queens instructor Jonathan Schatzberg, Spiegel’s friend and roommate, after Spiegel complained about the alleged discrimination.
     They sued Schulmann and UAK for invasion of privacy (based on Spiegel’s photos in a weight-loss advertisement), retaliation, and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and state and city human rights laws.
     Judge Townes dismissed their lawsuit entirely, and the 2nd Circuit rejected most of their appeal as meritless, including Spiegel’s bid for a different judge on remand.
     Spiegel claimed that Townes was biased and “had undertaken to scour the record to find a basis for knocking out plaintiffs’ claims.”
     “We decline the invitation to presume a district judge’s bias from her searching view of the record,” the court wrote.
     The only claim to move forward is the allegation that Spiegel was fired in violation of the city’s human rights law. The panel suggested that Judge Townes might dismiss the case if she finds that this area of law “would benefit from further development in the state courts.”

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